Following the death of his mother, seventeen year old Joshua ‘J’ Cody (james Frecheville) moves in with his hitherto-estranged family under the watchful eye of his doting grandmother, Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody (Weaver) and her three criminal sons.
J doesn’t know what to expect from this branch of the family. His uncle Pope (Mendelsohn) is the eldest and the most paranoid. Craig (Stapleton) is the unpredictable and successful drug dealer. And the reluctant Darren is only a couple of years older than J. Their colleague Barry Brown (Edgerton) is the stable influence on the reckless Cody Boys.
The new Australian drama ANIMAL KINGDOM is a slow burning crime story that subjects its audience to serious amounts of suspense. It appears to be set during the height of the Melbourne Gang Wars. The Codys are under suspicion for a number of armed robberies and are being closely watched by some angry, bent coppers. The Codys develop a siege mentality and J – who needs a refuge – finds himself in the least tranquil sanctuary imaginable.
First time feature director David Michod has made a solid debut. The performances are uniformly excellent. although Guy Pearce is almost upstaged by his own moustache. The movie’s occassional weakness is the story. The middle section of the film feels muddled at times and it is possible to get lost in amongst the frequent slow motion scenes and dramatically heightened music.
The comparison of the underworld with the animal feeding chain is made by Pearce’s policeman character, Leckie. He tells J that he is one of the weaker creatures protected by stronger ones. This analogy seems laboured because J’s character is a cypher. What he’s thinking and why is unclear. His strengths and weakness are also unclear.
ANIMAL KINGDOM will be in wide release for an indie movie and it deserves to find an audience. For those who enjoy an intense crime drama with good acting and high production values, this film will deliver.
Animal Kingdom opens in cinemas, June 3rd. I scored it 3/5.